Molly Ivins Can Say That About Texas

“The quality of the lives of Texans is daily affected by the Legislature’s sense of priorities. In the Lege, that’s pronounced ‘pry-roarities’.

“The state of Texas is Number One among the fifty states in [oil, gas, cattle, cotton and, in myriad other commodities] Texas ranks top or near the top. It was the proudest boast of our last governor that he had moved Texas from forty-fifth to forty-seventh among the states in per capita taxation. Yet in no area of social service does the state of Texas come anywhere near the national average. We’re right up there in infant mortality, contributing our fair share of the nation’s diptheria and tetanus. In 1969, we were Number One in infectious syphilis, but have since fallen to a mere fourteenth.

“The Legislature’s pry-roar-ities are most clearly seen in its annual appropriations bill. When it’s a question of malnutrition, hookworm, or illiteracy against new equipment for the Texas Rangers, the Rangers always get what they need.

“In a state with no corporate income tax, no corporate profits tax, no natural resources severance tax, wellhead taxes on gas and oil that all below the national average, and a light corporate franchise tax, where does the largest chunk of Texas’ money come from? From a regressive 4 percent state sales tax.” (‘Inside the Austin Fun House’, The Atlantic, May 1975)

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“Meantime, over in the Legislature, the latest incumbent indicted was Senator Carl Parker of Port Arthur, brought up two weeks ago on charges of pushing pornography, running prostitutes, and perjury. We feel this is the best indictment of a sitting legislator since last year, when Representative Bubba London of Bonham got sent up for cattle rustling. Happily, Senator Parker is unopposed, so we expect this to be the finest case of reelection-despite-trying-circumstances since 1982, when Senator John Wilson of LaGrange was reelected although seriously dead. Several distinguished former members have been indicted of late on charges ranging from misappropriation of funds to child abuse. We’re running about normal on that front.

“We’re having another bingo crackdown: we are big on busting grannies for bingo. If you bingo bad enough in this state, they’ll put you in the Texas Department of Corrections, the Lone Star Gulag. Texas and California are running about even to see which state can put the most human beings in Stripe City. We got a three-strikes law here – three felonies and it’s life – so we got guys doing terminal stretches for passing two bad checks and aggravated mopery.

“People always try to tell you how much Texas is changing. Hordes of Yankee yuppies have moved in, and we have herpes bars, roller discos, and other symptoms of civilisation. I think, though, maybe Texas is in a permanent state of plus ça change. While it is true that there are Texans who play polo and eat pasta salad, the place is still reactionary, cantankerous, and hilarious.” (‘H. Ross Went Seven Bubbles off Plumb (and Other Tales)’, The Nation, October 14, 1984)

“Texas is going broke in style. The Oklahoma Legislature decided to resolve the state’s fiscal crisis by dismembering public education. Unfortunately, the O.U. football team was left intact.

“In Texas, the House is taking the more traditional tack of picking on the blind, the disabled, the mentally retarded, and other citizens who haven’t had the foresight to hire a pod of lobbyists.” (‘Oil on the Rocks’, The Progressive, November 1986)

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“Those who find the current selection of presidential candidates so unappetizing, who profess them to be pygmies all, clearly lack the tempering experience of Texas politics. Spotting the lesser of two evils in the Great State takes a strong mind and a stronger stomach. I see nothing wrong with the people running for President. None of them drools.” (Ms., June 1988)

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“I wouldn’t say our public servants here in the Great State are without ethics. Governor Bill Clements, when asked why he had repeatedly lied about the Southern Methodist University football scandal, replied reasonably enough, ‘Well, there was never a Bible in the room’.

“State Senator Bill Moore once defended himself against the charge that he would personally profit from a bill he was backing by saying, ‘I’d just make a little bit of money, I wouldn’t make a whole lot’.

“House Speaker Gib Lewis recently found himself under attack because the Parks and Wildlife Department has been stocking his ranches with deer, elk, turkey, and bass without charging him for it. Lewis felt the complaints were unfair. ‘I have been helping Parks and Wildlife for seventeen years’, he explained. ‘If they owe anyone a favor, they owe me a favor’.

“Lewis is not a crook; he just has the ethical sensitivity of a walnut. When he was first elected, he forgot to put some stuff on his financial-disclosure statement – a little oil well, a little airplane, a little bidness he happens to be in with some lobbyist friends. He explained that he ran out of room on the paper.”

“I know a number of pols I count as honest who never did anything in return for such favors. Is it any ranker than getting a large campaign contribution from someone with a special interest in legislation? For virtue, try Minnesota.” (‘Texas-Style Ethics’, The Progressive, September 1988)

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Molly Ivins’ first job as journalist was at the Minneapolis Tribune. There must be something in the Minnesotan drinking water that (c/f Diana Johnstone) generates a capacity for down home honesty and plain speaking – ideal preparation for subsequently landing in Texas.

Unfortunately, Ivins died in 2007. Come back Molly, we (and Texans) need you more than ever.

(All of the above quotes are from articles collected in Molly Ivins Can’t Say that, Can She?, Random House, 1991. Ellipses have been omitted for readability.)

Evan Jones is a retired political economist from the University of Sydney. He can be reached